Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?

Light bulbs are a necessity for us if we want to light up our world. Let’s face it, not too many of us are willing to go without utilities if we have the option. Moving back to the dark ages isn’t on our list of things to do.

We’d prefer to live in an environmentally friendly way if it were possible. In some cases, using efficient light bulbs is an option for us, while in other cases, the technology that allows us to save energy is, in itself, cost prohibitive.

Are light bulbs bad for the environment? The answer is of course a resounding yes. Depending on which light bulb you use, the effects of the light bulbs themselves aren’t the real problem, but rather the energy that it takes to power them.

In the case of other bulbs, the equipment offers it’s own significant hazard to the world around us. It’s essentially a case of, as the saying goes, the lesser of two evils. Determinining what the lesser evil is has been a source of much contention in the case of lighting.

The Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs leave a larger overall footprint. They don’t technically have a lot of ingredients that are overly harmful to the environment on their own merits. Incandescent light bulbs are largely glass and tungsten. They aren’t easily broken down, but aren’t harmful.

Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?

The problem with them is that they require so much energy to function. Incandescent bulbs, or “regular” light bulbs use about two times the energy as other varieties. Most of that energy is emitted as heat, not light. They require more energy to offer less light.

Since most of that energy is emitted as heat, they also require extra energy in the summer in the form of things like air conditioning to cool the area.


Compact Fluorescent Bulbs–the smaller brighter lights emit most of their energy as light. The light is clearer, brighter, meaning that you need fewer bulbs in any given area, and last far longer. In fact they can last as much as five times as long as a regular incandescent bulb.

The problem with CFL, or incandescent lights is that they use mercury to function. Mercury is extremely harmful to the environment. One single teaspoon of mercury added to a medium sized body of water can cause that water to become contaminated in ways that make it unusable. The effects last for longer than your lifetime.

The Solution

The method of preventing the environmental damage could take one of several forms

. One means of helping would be finding a way to lessen the energy that incandescent bulbs use or the heat that they emit. Another method would be finding an incandescent bulb that lasts a longer time as well as the other two aspects of it.

The third solution would be to find a viable means of recycling the bulbs which emit the better light, but offer the dangers of heavy metal. Currently recycling is not readily available in all areas. Where the mail in recycling is available it is often cost-prohibitive to people who don’t have a large disposable income at their command.

Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?

Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?

Several businesses are now offering disposal of unbroken fluorescent light bulbs, but there may or may not be an instance of these businesses in the local area. When there is not, there may also be missing any other type of cost-effective recycling method. This means that bulbs which are extremely harmful to the environment are being thrown into regular garbage and are ending up in landfills where the mercury that they contain lays in the landfill, contaminating the soil and water in the area.

Don’t throw your fluorescent bulbs in the regular garbage. In fact, this is against the law in several states, with more moving to make it illegal to dispose of them in this way. If you have the option take your bulbs to a Home Depot store, which will accept unbroken fluorescent bulbs for recycling.

Push for recycling of fluorescent bulbs in your local area so that a low cost alternative is available for area residents rather than the cheaper, but infinitely more damaging practice of throwing them in the regular trash can be avoided.